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Sunburst Shutters Corporation Business Information, Profile, and History

company polywood swapp jarman

3999 Ponderosa Way
Las Vegas
Nevada
89119
U.S.A.

Company Perspectives

Our mission is to bring beautiful, quality shutters into the homes of our customers that will add value to their home and last a lifetime.

History of Sunburst Shutters Corporation

Sunburst Shutters Corporation has 35 retail stores and has licensed more than 75 companies in North America to sell its proprietary "Polywood" shutters. In addition, the company's Polywood shutters and other shutter products are sold through some Home Depot, Expo Design Center, and Lowe's locations nationwide.

1979-90: A Hobby in Woodworking Becomes a Nationwide Business

Ron Swapp founded Sunburst Shutters and Design Studio in 1979 in Phoenix, Arizona. Swapp, then a pharmaceutical sales representative, had been building plantation shutters on his own as a sideline for several years. Believing that the intense sun and climate in Phoenix made it a market rife with opportunity for shutter sales, Swapp left his sales job and devoted himself to his fledgling business full-time. In 1982, he shortened the name of his company to Sunburst Shutters and hired shop personnel.

Swapp's interest in plantation shutters began when he and his wife decided that they wanted to put plantation shutters in their windows. Plantation shutters are a window treatment made originally of wood. The louvers in the shutter panels open and close--in the case of Sunburst shutters, on a tilt rod. The shutter panels attach securely to a frame around the window, and may be pushed to the side of the window in accordion-like folds. After shopping around and not finding anything that he liked, Swapp ordered the components needed to construct shutters from a company in California and built a set himself. Family, friends, and neighbors saw Swapp's shutters and wanted some of their own, and so, for a while, Swapp built plantation shutters as a hobby in his garage. "None of his first handful of customers paid him more than what it cost him," according to his nephew and future partner, Dix Jarman in a 2004 Las Vegas Review-Journal article. "It wasn't a business idea, because he wasn't marking them up at all. My uncle was just doing favors."

In 1987, Swapp hired Dix Jarman to open a branch of Sunburst Shutters in Las Vegas, Nevada. Jarman had just completed Brigham Young University with a degree in business. According to Jarman, who recalled how the partnership began in a Las Vegas Review-Journal article in 2004, "I graduated from college in 1987 with a business degree, and he [Swapp] and I were joking around on a family vacation at the beach when he asked me what I was planning to do. He said, 'We should get together and put this shutter thing on the map,' so in 1988 we formed a partnership and I opened an office ... in Las Vegas."

Las Vegas offered a great market for shutters. "The town was just starting to kick in," Jarman, who opened the store with his wife, remembered: "We looked at our budget and had a goal for 1988, our first year. We thought $100,000 in sales would cover our hard costs. Instead we did just over $1 million, and that's when we knew we really had something." Jarman later opened the company's Hawaii store.

1990: The Introduction of Polywood and Expansion Overseas

The company grew steadily. In 1990, Jarman moved the headquarters to Las Vegas. By the early 1990s, with stores now overseas, Swapp and Jarman began to search for a wood-alternative to improve their product. Up to this time, Sunburst's shutters had both mortise and tenon and dowel joints for durability and were constructed entirely of furniture-grade, kiln-dried and water-sealed basswood, but wood would often warp, chip, crack, or peel. Swapp and Jarman believed that there was a material better suited for the fabrication of custom shutters than wood. With the help of some European companies, they developed a synthetic called Polywood, an engineered wood substitute that was stronger than wood, and wouldn't warp, chip, fade, crack, or peel. Polywood was also waterproof, fire-resistant, and termite-proof. It insulated up to 70 percent more efficiently than wood and 1,600 percent more than aluminum mini-blinds. And although the material itself cost twice as much as wood, the savings in labor in building the shutters rendered the final product less expensive than wood shutters.

With Polywood, the company greatly improved its manufacturing efficiencies. According to Jarman, "Polywood allowed [Sunburst] to manufacture a quality shutter with much less equipment and fewer problems than you get with real wood, like one piece is straight but another isn't; one piece has a knot, another doesn't.[B]ecause Polywood is man-made, every piece is perfect." These efficiencies Sunburst allowed Sunburst to open branch stores in a variety of locations including Southern California; Dallas and Houston, Texas; and Orlando and Tampa, Florida.

Within a short time, Sunburst Shutters opened stores in all the big shutter markets. The first year of their introduction, Polywood shutters represented more than $6 million of Sunburst Shutters' revenues, and by 1994, Polywood shutters were the fastest growing shutter brand in the country. In 1995, Polywood shutters accounted for more than 80 percent of all of Sunburst Shutters' sales.

In 1998, more than $50 million in Polywood shutters were sold in the United States, Canada, Australia, and Saudi Arabia. By 2003, with new stores opening regularly, the company had 25 outlets nationwide. By the end of 2004, with 28 stores, more than six million shutters sold, and Sunburst products sold in national home improvement chains, the company was growing at a rate of 20 percent or more each year.

As part of the company's 25th anniversary celebration, it gave away free shutters to customers across the nation, "Polywood has been to Sunburst Shutters what the Model T was to Ford," announced Dix Jarman, then-chief executive, in an October 1, 2004, company press release. He continued, "The company now has 10 times as many stores after introducing Polywood to the window covering market, and more than 75 percent of our historical revenue is from Polywood shutters, even though we've only offered Polywood for 13 years." Sunburst Shutters did about $70 million per year in sales nationwide in addition to another $30-plus million in wholesale markets where the company didn't install its shutters directly. There were 40 employees in Las Vegas and more than 640 nationwide.

2004-05: The Choice of Environmentalists and Children's Advocates

Another boon to business occurred in 2004 when the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Window Covering Safety Council jointly declared October to be National Window Covering Safety Month. According to figures issued by these groups a year later, about 359 infants and children had accidentally strangled to death in window cords from 1981 to 1995, or one every two weeks on average. While mini-blind companies used the month to remind consumers to repair or replace corded window coverings purchased before 2001, Sunburst Shutters promoted its cordless alternative to blinds. "Shutters open and close without cords and they cannot be rolled up and down like mini-blinds. These two features significantly reduce any hazard to children," Jarman explained in a 2004 company press release.

In December 2004, Sunburst introduced another product, its Ultra Clear version of the Polywood shutter, which aimed to target more modern tastes. In the Ultra Clear model, a concealed mechanism for controlling the shutters' louvers replaced the tilt rod. However, it was Sunburst's classic wood shutters that were chosen late in 2004 for use in an installment of television's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." The show's designers selected Sunburst Shutters to provide the window treatments on one of the show's projects, which was filmed in New Orleans in 2005.

Also in 2005, the company took part in national Earth Day. "In making a real wood shutter, more than 50 percent of a tree is wasted before it even gets to your window," explained Dix Jarman in a press release; however, "the Polywood shutter is made from a recyclable wood substitute and a byproduct of natural gas, not a petroleum-based product." It achieved two environmentally sound goals: reducing the amount of energy used in a home and lessening the manufacturer's impact on natural resources.

Parents as well as environmentalists approved of Sunburst Shutters' products. In 2005, Parents for Window Blind Safety (PWBS), an organization dedicated to educating the public about the hazards that corded window coverings present to children, awarded Sunburst Shutters its Safety Seal of Approval after rigorously testing its products. Sunburst was the first shutter company to receive this award. Following the recognition, PWBS and Sunburst Shutters teamed up to donate more than $4,500 worth of shutters to Kiddie Kare, a daycare center in Phoenix, Arizona. Sunburst Shutters also installed $6,000 worth of shutters in a Nashville daycare facility.

By late 2005, Polywood shutters had become the top selling shutter brand in the world, although the company had never penetrated deeply into the commercial market, except in Las Vegas, Nevada. Swapp, withdrawn from active management of the company, continued to oversee ongoing product development and the development of growth strategies. At the mid-decade point, Swapp and others at Sunburst Shutters strategized how to expand into the commercial market nationwide, confident that they would be able to do so.

Principal Competitors

Overhead Door Corporation; Saunders Brothers.

Chronology

  • Key Dates
  • 1979 Ron Swapp founds Sunburst Shutters and Design Studio.
  • 1982 The company changes its name to Sunburst Shutters.
  • 1988 Dix Jarman opens the company's Las Vegas, Nevada, store.
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